Fats: The Good and the Bad

Fats: The Good and the Bad

by Kim Hardin, RD

With all the conflicting research about what you should and shouldn't eat, it just seems to get more confusing every day - especially when it comes to fats. Here are some frequently asked questions about fats, and some answers that may surprise you.

Wouldn't it just be easier to eliminate fat from my diet completely?

The answer is no. Although certain types of fat and too much fat increase your risk for some cancers and heart disease, you need fat to transport the fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, and K). You also need it for stored energy and to insulate your body tissues.

How much and what kind of fat do I need?

The new 2005 USDA guidelines say to keep your total fat intake between 20% and 35% of calories, with most coming from polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats. No more than 10% should come from saturated fats, and you should ingest less than 300 mg of cholesterol per day. Keep your intake of trans fats low. The American Heart Association recommends 2 servings of fatty fish per week to get enough omega 3 fatty acids.

The following table will help you understand the different types of fat:

Type of Fat Characteristics Sources
Saturated Solid at room temperature Meat, poultry, whole milk dairy products, coconut, palm, palm kernel oil
Polyunsaturated Liquid at room temperature Vegetable oils (corn, sunflower, safflower, soybean)
Monounsaturated Liquid at room temperature Vegetable oils (canola, olive)
Trans fatty acids Partially hydrogenated at room temperature Some margarines, snack and processed foods, and commercially fried foods
Omega 3 fatty acids (ALA, EPA, DHA) A type of polyunsaturated oil Fatty fish (salmon, mackerel, albacore tuna, trout, herring) canola oil, soybeans, flaxseed, fortified eggs
Dietary cholesterol Solid at room temperature Animal sources (dairy products, meats, poultry, egg yolks)

If it still seems confusing, follow these five tips for meeting the dietary guidelines for fats:

  • Choose lean meats, poultry, or fish that are broiled, grilled, roasted, or poached, not fried.
  • Check food labels for the word hydrogenated. By January 2006, all food labels are required to list the amount of trans fatty acids.
  • Avoid saturated fats. Use polyunsaturated or monounsaturated fats when cooking.
  • Include fatty fish in your diet at least 2 times per week.
  • Avoid fast foods, especially fried foods.

For more information about the new dietary guidelines and the new food guide pyramid, visit www.mypyramid.gov.